Thursday, January 29th, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Never mind that he directs Pilobolus, one of the most successful modern-dance companies in history. Robby Barnett simply doesn't care for dance all that much.
So little do he and his troupe, en route to Playhouse Square Saturday on the DanceCleveland series, have in common with others, so unusual are their methods and output, Barnett doesn't even follow dance at large.
"For me," he said from his home in more › rural Vermont, "it's only about the psychological engagement. The medium itself is just something I fell into."
There's a method to what may sound like madness in that statement, and a fortuitous use of the phrase "fell into." For what has set Pilobolus apart since 1971 is the way it creates new work: without choreographers (usually), through play and the exploration of physical ideas.
Where most troupes fulfill or re-create the vision of a single artist, Pilobolus operates collaboratively, sometimes partnering with figures from other disciplines. What's more, the dances it produces tend to rest not on messages or stories but on fresh means of interacting and athletic feats.
"We're simply interested in the ways people touch each other," Barnett explained. "Our work is a manifestation of a social process. It comes from being in each other's arms."
Just how well this works will soon be abundantly clear. When the company, founded by Dartmouth College gymnasts, arrives here Saturday, it will do so bearing a program reflecting all sides of its distinctive personality.
"On the Nature of Things," for instance, is pure Pilobolus, a flesh-and-blood paean to ancient sculpture, performed on a narrow column. Similarly, "Sweet Purgatory" deploys dancers in both active and passive roles to evoke a feeling of suspended time and space.
What comes of Pilobolus welcoming others into the mix will be evident in two works, "All Is Not Lost" and "The Inconsistent Pedaler." The former, a video collaboration with rock band OK Go, imagines dance as viewed through a kaleidoscope, while the latter, created with author Etgar Keret and filmmaker Shira Geffen, strives for that rarest of dance virtues: humor.
Rarer still is the opportunity presented by the fifth and final piece on the program, "Untitled 2015," a work in progress slated for premiere later this year. Through that, patrons may witness the troupe's creative process in action.
Whether or not the piece endures remains to be seen. One thing's for certain, however, even at this early stage: It already has at least a few fans.
Barnett may not bother keeping up with the Joneses, but he's avidly interested in what his own dancers think. In fact, they're his most reliable critics. When they're satisfied with a new piece, he knows it's ready for the world.
"By working as a group, we're our own audience," Barnett said. "Because we have to like what we're doing, we know we're always starting with things that are fundamentally interesting."
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
RELATED COMPANY: Pilobolus
Friday, January 23rd, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Two big steps by DanceCleveland have brought Northeast Ohio close to being a national wellspring for the art.
The recipient of some $210,000 in grants from two major foundations, the presenter is now actively pushing Northeast Ohio as a place to establish a national center for choreography.
Should the idea come to fruition, possibly as early as next year, the facility for developing new dance would be more › only the second of its kind in the country, after the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Among funders, said Pamela Young, executive director of DanceCleveland, "There's a real focus to be more involved in the creative process and support dance in the creative sense. We think there's a real need and appetite for this in the national ecosystem."
Whether she's right, and how far that appetite extends, will soon be clear.
Never one to wait around, DanceCleveland already has put the money it received – approximately $140,000 from the Knight Foundation and $70,000 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation – to good use by hiring Beachwood consultant Janus Small to conduct a feasibility study. The study, conducted in partnership with FSU faculty member Jennifer Calienes, is slated to be finished this summer.
"There's a wide variety of conclusions we could reach, anywhere from [recommending] our ideal solution to this not making sense for Northeast Ohio," Small said.
In addition, as part of the study, three or possibly four choreographers will visit the region and employ the sorts of resources a dedicated center would provide to create new works. The first, Camille A. Brown, already has gotten started.
That's not all. The study also builds on a solid foundation of feedback generated in the fall of 2013, when DanceCleveland brought a panel of national dance leaders, academics and choreographers to the city to formally consider the idea.
"We had some good conversations, and there was some strong interest," noted Young. "We had some really impressive people here, and they couldn't get over the possibilities."
"We think there's a real need and appetite for this in the national ecosystem."
Young, of course, and her staff, were the first ones to spot those possibilities. Regular presenters of world premieres, they hear about and witness firsthand the pangs of labor that often accompany the development of new dance.
Beyond that, they also connected the dots, detecting the potential in the region's many colleges, universities, theaters and studios. While the feasibility study is looking far and wide, all the way from Oberlin to Youngstown, one venue in particular, the School of Dance, Theatre and Arts Administration at the University of Akron, struck Young early on as a strong candidate.
Beyond initial ideas, she explained, choreographers need three things: research facilities, a studio and time in a theater. And yet most dance-makers rarely have access to all three, let alone in one location, as they could at Akron.
"We began to realize we have all three kinds of things here," Young said. "We began to wonder if we couldn't put together a place for dance to be made."
Even at this early point in her study, Small said she has "every reason to believe" the center will materialize in some form. Should that prediction come true, Young added, both the dance communities of Northeast Ohio and the nation at large will benefit greatly.
For Cleveland, she said, the facility would serve as another feather in the city's cultural cap, a second major boost alongside this week's International Association of Blacks in Dance conference. On the national level, meanwhile, the center would stand as a bold solution to one of the dance world's chronic problems.
"If it strengthens Northeast Ohio dance, it strengthens dance for everybody," Young explained. "It has the potential to be a catapulting opportunity, to make Northeast Ohio a major focal point in the national dance scene. The stars are aligning to make a huge impact."
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 12:00 PM
The gravity-defying dance troupe Pilobolus, known for its breathtaking shape-shifting using the human body as the medium, will give a single Cleveland performance at the end of the month at the State Theatre at PlayhouseSquare.
The five-dance program will be at 8 p.m. Jan. 31, including On the Nature of Things, inspired by ancient sculptures and the classical baroque. It's performed by dancers balanced on a two-foot wide column rising above more › the stage, set to music by Michelle DiBucci and Ed Bilous. The Washington Post described the dancers as having both impressive musculature and a "magical floating quality" in this work.
Also on the bill is All Is Not Lost, created by Grammy award-winning OK Go, Pilobolus and Trish Sie, as the live companion to Pilobolus' video collaboration with OK Go. The company will share its dramatic flair and quirky humor in the The Inconsistent Peddler, with music by Perez Prado and Tom Petty. The work was created by four of Pilobolus' artistic leaders in collaboration with fiction writer Etgar Keret and filmmaker Shire Geffen.
In Sweet Purgatory, set to lush music by Dmitri Shostakovich, the dancers will appear suspended in time and space. Finally, Cleveland audiences will be the first to see a preview of an unnamed new 2015 Pilobolus work.
Tickets start at $20. Call 216-241-6000 or see www.dancecleveland.org.
Pilobolus, named after a barnyard fungus, was founded in 1971 by a group of Dartmouth College gymnastic students. The inventive, athletic troupe has been seen on commercials, music videos and in appearances on the Academy Awards, Oprah Winfrey's show, Conan O'Brien and NFL Network.
Akron Beacon Journal, Kerry Clawson
RELATED COMPANY: Pilobolus
Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 12:00 PM
How many dance companies do you know that take their name from a fungus – and at that, a particular volatile breed that can propel itself and stick on the surface of whatever it aims at? Perhaps that kind of funny connection occurred to the Dartmouth College dancers who began the group Pilobolus back in the 1970s, making them known for their unusual, kinesthetic approach to dance-making.
Pilobolus has since gone more › on to become world famous, appearing in the greater Akron area in past years, but coming again for a one-performance concert on January 31 for DanceCleveland, a Knight Arts grantee.
As organizers have rightly pointed out, Pilobolus is deeply rooted in experimentation, dance improvisation and self-exploration, using the human body as a medium of expression to create form and movement with breathtaking effect. In other appearances, members have noted that they work collaboratively to explore through complicated physical movement and strain the central notion that they are trying to work out through highly lithe and limber movement.
Generally, the response to their work is a slack-jawed reaction along the lines of "How did they do that?" or, more likely, "How did they ever come up with the unique dance expression that they perform on stage?"
The company will perform four works reflecting the incredible variety of its repertory. One piece, "On the Nature of Things," is inspired by ancient sculptures. To get at that idea, the work is performed by dancers balanced on a two-foot wide column rising above the stage. It is set to music by Michelle DiBucci and Ed Bilous but inspired by the classical Baroque genre. One critic praised this work by saying, "There is a Sistine Chapel aesthetic here, in the fleshiness, the impressive musculatures and the dancers' magical floating quality."
Another piece, "All Is Not Lost," has been created by Grammy Award-winning OK Go, Pilobolus and Trish Sie. The performance piece is the live companion to Pilobolus' video collaboration with OK Go. For the stage, the dancers have a video showing them off to the side, dancing atop a clear flat surface, under which a camera is catching the various shapes and configurations that the dancers can create right in front of the audience's eyes. It can be amazing to watch the process that these dancers go through – and see in automatic feedback the beauty they create. Playing with multiple perspectives, gravity and dimensionality, the piece, organizers say, changes how people look at dance through a kaleidoscopic view of human connection.
On a lighter side, the troupe's dramatic flair and quirky sense of humor comes into play in the "The Inconsistent Pedaler." With music by pop music legends Perez Prado and Tom Petty, the work was created by four of Pilobolus' artistic leaders in collaboration with fiction writer Etgar Keret and filmmaker Shire Geffen. A summary shows that there is indeed a stationary bicycle on stage around which a tiny family saga unfolds. As long as one person spins the bike's wheels, the family is in action; as soon as it slows down, they flag as well. There has to be something psychological here about how we spur each other along – or can take the wind out of each other's sails.
A fourth piece is "Sweet Purgatory." This work is set to lush music by Dmitri Shostakovich and features dancers miraculously suspended in time and space, showcasing the dancers' combination of kinetic and physical capabilities. And for an added benefit to area audiences, Pilobolus will preview the current version of an as yet untitled work that will be premiered at a later date.
DanceCleveland will present Pilobolus for a one-night only performance at 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 31, in the State Theatre of Playhouse Square, 1519 Euclid Ave., Akron; 216-241-6000; www.dancecleveland.org. Tickets are $20.
Roger Durbin, Knight Arts
RELATED COMPANY: Pilobolus
Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 12:00 PM
DANCECleveland Receives Support from Major National Foundations To Explore the Creation of a National Center for Choreography in Northeast Ohio
CLEVELAND (January 8, 2015)– DANCECleveland has received lead funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and additional funding from The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's Fund for National Projects to explore and test the idea of establishing a new National Center for Choreography in northeast Ohio.
While there are a number of choreographic residency sites in the U.S., there is only one National Center for Choreography – the more › Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University (MANCC). In comparison, France has 19.
Pre-planning began last fall for the feasibility study, which will engage national, regional and local arts community and academic leaders as well as potential funders and partners,to explore operational scenarios and to test the viability of the concept. The study, which will take approximately 18-24 months, will be coordinated by Pamela Young, DANCECleveland executive director, and conducted by consultants Janus Small, principal, Janus Small Associates, and Jennifer Calienes,Independent Consultant and MANCC Founding Director and Senior Advisor.
The project will include three curated pilot choreographic residencies which will bring national choreographers to the region and provide them with time for research and space to create new work.
Young says that these pilot residencies will provide a strong indication about the viability of an operational model that emerges from the feasibility study. "It's our hope that the feasibility study will galvanize attention among local, regional and national dance communities around a possible solution to the industry-wide challenge of where and how the dance of tomorrow will be developed."
"Northeast Ohio has developed not just great dancers but a community around the field of dance," said Dennis Scholl, vice president of arts for Knight Foundation, which provided $140,000 in funding. "The next generation of dancers needs a place where they can develop their craft, and the study will tell us whether Northeast Ohio can be that home."
"As dance continues to strengthen its presence around the country, this project to explore a decentralized network of dance centers is especially timely and important," said Ben Cameron, Program Director of the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation which is supporting this project with a grant of $73,125. "We are honored to support DANCECleveland and look forward to the results of this work."
The seeds for the concept of a new center began when The University of Akron opened its state-of-the-art dance facility in 2006. With its spaces -- including seven dance studios, a black-box theater and access to the 3,000-seat E.J. Thomas Hall -- serving as a catalyst, the idea for the creation of a new national center took root. In the fall of 2013, DANCECleveland convened a national blue ribbon panel, comprised of national dance leaders, choreographers and academic representatives, to gather preliminary ideas and provide feedback about the concept.The blue ribbon panel and community events not only helped to bring this idea into focus, it also challenged DANCECleveland to broaden its focus to encapsulate the idea of possible research, dance and theater partners and sites across the entire northeast Ohio region.
"We received overwhelmingly positive encouragement from the panel participants, stakeholder groups and the audience at the event, so we're eager to launch the next steps in this process which could have far-reaching implications not only for northeast Ohio, but also for the broader American dance world," said Young.
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DANCECleveland, a Cleveland, Ohio based non-profit organization, works to bring the passion and verve of modern and contemporary dance to the northeast Ohio community. The centerpiece of the organization's programming is its annual performance series. The performances are surrounded by an array of educational outreach events including artist-run master classes, residency programs, student matinees, pre-performance lectures and post-performance Q&A sessions, designed both to break artistic boundaries and provide community access to the dance aesthetic and dance luminaries that DANCECleveland brings to Northeast Ohio. For more information, visit www.dancecleveland.org.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit KnightFoundation.org.
About the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people's lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke's properties. The Arts Program focuses its support on contemporary dance, jazz and theatre artists, and the organizations that nurture, present and produce them. For more information, please visit www.ddcf.org.